Spy out the land

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Numbers 13

What will the future bring?  Blessings or curses?

Wouldn’t it be nice to send someone on ahead to make sure the future’s bright?

That’s what the Israelites do in the book of Numbers.  Let’s catch up with the story so far…

In Genesis, Israel begins as the seed of Abraham then, with Joseph, they head down to Egypt.

In Exodus they are saved out of slavery and brought to Sinai to receive the law.

In Leviticus, aspects of that law (especially the priests and sacrifices) are explained.

Now in Numbers the Israelites travel on from Sinai to the desert of Paran.  They come to the brink of the promised land – the land flowing with milk and honey.  And the LORD tells Moses to send out spies…

to spy out the land of Canaan, and Moses said unto them, Get you up this way southward, and go up into the mountain:  And see the land, what it is; and the people that dwelleth therein, whether they be strong or weak, few or many;  And what the land is that they dwell in, whether it be good or bad; and what cities they be that they dwell in, whether in tents, or in strong holds;  And what the land is, whether it be fat or lean, whether there be wood therein, or not. And be ye of good courage, and bring of the fruit of the land.  (Numbers 13:17-20)

Moses sends a leader from each of the 12 tribes.  And he makes a point of renaming one of the spies. His old name was Hoshea, his new name would be Joshua, and in the fullness of time he would lead the Israelites into the promised land (Numbers 13:16). “Joshua” and “Jesus” are the same name (they are different ways of translating the one Hebrew word).

Another spy is from the kingly tribe of Judah and is called Caleb, which means “after the heart” (as in a man after the LORD’s heart).  So these 12 men head off to spy out an area of about 200 miles. It takes them 40 days.

As they spy out the land there’s good news and bad news.  Joshua and Caleb emphasize the good news, the others emphasize the bad.

Here’s the good news: the land is every bit as fruitful as the LORD had promised. They take a massive cluster of grapes back with them, carried on a pole, and also some pomegranates and figs.  These are described as the ‘firstfruits’ from the land, just as these spies were the forerunners into the land.

So the good news comes: the promised land is wonderful.  In Numbers 14:7 Caleb calls it “exceedingly good.”

But the spies bring back bad news too:

Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there…  all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature.  And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.  (Numbers 13:28, 32-33)

The land is good but the inhabitants are giants.  The question for the Israelites is this: will they move forwards in faith, or shrink back in fear?

To press forward in faith they would need to look around them and be captured by the right vision:

They should look back with remembrance and see that returning to Egypt is no life for them.  It’s slavery.

They should look around with gratitude and see that the LORD is with them.  As Moses says in Numbers 14:14

thou LORD art among this people… thou LORD art seen face to face, and… thy cloud standeth over [us], and… thou goest before [us], by day time in a pillar of a cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night.

They should look forwards with imagination to the “exceedingly good land”.  Whatever they risk will be worth it!

They should look up with faith and see that the LORD had “sworn” to bring them in (Numbers 14:16).  He who had brought them thus far could be trusted to finish the job.

Most of all, they should look to Jesus!  This forerunner called “Joshua” was the one who would bring them into the promised land.  And he was there in their midst bearing the firstfruits of the future. He has seed the good land and he brings them a foretast. If only they would come to Joshua and listen to him, they could see, touch and even taste what was coming.  If they trusted him, the firstfruits would loom larger in their vision than the giants, and they would move forwards.

But as we’ll see tomorrow, the Israelites feared the giants more than they trusted the firstfruits.  So they turned back from the LORD’s will for them.

How about us?  In the short-term, we too face scary prospects.  Consider now what giants might be putting you off from forging ahead in God’s will.  How will we press forwards?

We too need to remember that our past in sin is nothing to return to.

Our present is a present with the Lord Jesus.

Above us is a heavenly Father who has promised to see us home (Philippians 1:6).

Ahead is an exceedingly good future.

And our Forerunner Jesus can be trusted.  He has returned from the far country and appeared among us.  His resurrection was a firstfruits of new creation life.  Let’s look to Him who has appeared among us as a pledge of the future. Then we can move forwards, trusting that the best is yet to come.

Christ is risen from the dead… the firstfruits of [those who have died]… Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.  (1 Corinthians 15:20, 58)

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